Generally we craft
brewers tend to shy away from using sugar instead of malt. After all it wasn't
originally used at all in the making of beer. And if we do use sugar, its
dextrose (wheat sugar) in preference to sucrose (cane sugar). But for every rule
there always seems to be an exception, and so it is in Belgium where sugar is as
part of many beers as malt and hops. Anyone who eventually explores how to make
these beers will come across the main sugar they use - candy sugar. So, what is
it and how to make it, because you will not easily get Belgian candy sugar in
Now for those who
don't know, this region produces a wide variety of beers, probably the most
diverse range of beers anywhere in the world. They include Belgian Strong Ales,
Abby and Trappist beers, including Dubbels and Trippels, and Biere de Gardes.
All these beers have one thing in common - they are strong (high gravity beers).
Well above 6% v/v, they can even go above 10% v/v. But these beers are very
popular, one reason being that they are very easy drinking. If they were made
out of all malt, they would be "thick and heavy", like an old fashioned stout.
But they are as light in body as a normal beer, due to the substitution of some
of the malt with sugar. This adds alcohol but no body to the beer.
So, Belgian brewers
use sugar in beer making, and they use sucrose. Ordinary white cane sugar that
is so frowned upon in general in this hobby. But the difference is, they do not
use plain white sugar like you buy from the supermarket. The sugar is processed
to make candy sugar. And candy sugar has a number of effects on a beer. It has
been caramelized, and this gives nice complex flavours, including a nice sweet
edge, a distinct aroma, and most importantly, a dense mousse-like head that is
so characteristic of Belgian beers.
Now, how to make it.
Well you need a good high temperature thermometer. Mercury thermometers that go
up to 350
C will be very accurate, but are clumsy to use, and can easily break as you
plunge them in and out of a hot sugar solution. Spilt mercury is not something
you really want to have to deal with. Still they do work. But I have found the
proper candy thermometers that clip on the side of the pot are ideal. You get
them from kitchen supply shops.
Now any good cook
will tell you there are certain temps you boil sugar water at for different
lollies. Basically, this is the temperature that the boiling syrup will reach as
the water evaporates concentrating the sugar and hence raising the boiling point
of the solution.
Soft Ball =
115C Hard Ball = 127C Soft Crack = 135C Hard Crack = 150C
The terms refer to
how the sugar will behave on cooling.
So let's say you want
to make 500 grams of candy sugar. You weigh 500 g of white sugar and into a
small pot. Add enough water to make thick syrup. Add a pinch of citric acid (I
will explain why later). Now bring to a boil and keep the temperature between
hard ball and soft crack (127-135
As evaporation will cause the temperature to rise, have a small amount of water
and add a tablespoon every now and then.
The colour will
gradually change from clear to light amber to deep red as the boil proceeds.
Light candy sugar is a very light pee colour (yes, that type of pee). This can
take only 15 minutes. Dark candy sugar is very deep red. This can take hours.
Once you are at the colour you desire (and a lot of that is on taste), you let
the temp go to hard crack (150 C).
Once it hits hard crack, turn off the heat and pour it into some greaseproof
paper. As it cools it will go rock hard. I then put it in the freezer until I'm
ready to use it.
Now why add
citric acid? This is to 'invert' some of the sugar. Simply put, cane sugar
(sucrose) is made up of two other sugars (glucose and fructose) joined together.
Yeast must spend time and effort breaking the joining bonds to allow them to get
at the simple sugars they need for metabolism. This can also be done chemically
in an acid environment with heat. The citric acid supplies the acid, and the
heat is there when you make the candy sugar. Invert sugar tastes a bit sweeter
than regular sucrose. This is all just so easy there is no reason not to give it
a try. It will make your Belgian beers really special.
Citric Acid is a
very easy product to find. All supermarkets stock it, in the spices section, and
it can be used for pH adjustments as well.